True: The younger a child is when adopted, the less time they have spent separated from their forever family and the more time they have to bond.
False: This directly correlates to the amount of trauma a child has experienced and how easily they will transition, bond, and attach.
I can't tell you how many people I've heard reference the age of a child at the time of adoption as being a primary factor in the ease of the adoption process. Since I, too, was under this impression when we began our adoption adventure, I want to share some truths we've lived through. I'm no expert, but I am a Momma of 6 kiddos - 2 of whom God added to our family as toddlers, through adoption.
Discerning between 'typical' toddler tantrums and trauma-induced triggers can be terribly frustrating! Really, the only way to differentiate is finding patterns in consistent reactions to specific stimuli. At times, it's obvious - flashing lights, noisy rooms, certain holidays. Other times, the subtle nature of the trigger can make it almost undectable - a smell, a hair style, the feeling of certain fabrics.
Any child that has experienced neglect or abuse can black out memories (a form of self preservation). With toddlers, you add to that an underdeveloped memory. This combination, along with limited information about what our children experienced before they came home, makes helping them understand and deal with their feelings, fears, and triggers hard. In a healthy family, a toddler looks to their parents to help them understand their fears. Only in the case of children from hard places, when fears or feelings seem 'irrational,' we know something from their past has impacted that area of their life - but without any knowledge of specifics. Often times, the best we can do is reassure our children they are safe, loved, and wanted.
While that may sound text-booky-wonderful, as a Mom, I would much rather speak directly to the fear residing in my little boy's heart. Thank God for His faithfulness and being able to bring healing in EVERY area - both those known and unknown to us!
The scars of trauma on a toddler are far more than skin deep. Aside from effecting their ability to trust, bond, and attach - the child's brain is constantly developing based on their surroundings. When an infant/toddler suffers neglect and abuse, their brain and body learn to respond in a fight or flight pattern just to survive. Survival mode becomes not only their default - but the sole way they know how to operate.
What does that look like in an adoptive family? In our family, it's looked like manipulation, lieing, aggression, lack of empathy, inability to hold eye contact, sensory processing disorder, developmental delays, and cognitive inabilities to process speech and communicate effectively. That list is no where near exhaustive of the potential cognitive effects and deficiencies caused by abuse or neglect.
While many of those effects and deficiencies manifest in undesirable behavior, we can't just treat the behaviors with discipline or redirection. Because some of those behaviors stem from a survival mode mindset, it requires the brain being 're-wired.' Essentially, we have to help our children learn, experience, and receive those things God intended them to learn, experience, and receive not only from birth, but in utero. They are not simply learning new skills and abilities - they are having to rewire the way they think, process, relate, feel, and act.
For our son, the basic fundamentals of being, doing, and feeling that we take for granted aren't part of his core - they have to be instilled in ways that do not trigger the trauma he's already experienced.
Parenting a toddler from a hard place has taught me much about God's grace - and relying on Him for strength. It has shaken my perceptions of perfection and thrown this type-A Momma into a life that requires spontaneity and flexibility. It has humbled me to ask for forgiveness and wisdom. It is a tremendous honor and blessing to be our precious boy's Mommy! And it is a tremendous responsibility to be part of bringing healing to his heart by showing him God's love, patience, mercy, and faithfulness. It is beautiful AND hard.
If you've read this far, I pray it's made sense and either helped you understand just a bit of what trauma and triggers look like for toddlers - or reminded you that you're not alone on this adoption adventure! Blessings, friends!
(Disclaimer: I'm in no way insinuating that parenting a toddler from a hard place is more challenging than parenting an older child! Every child, history, and family is different. Adoption is beautiful and hard - and is never a competition for who has it the most together or who has it the toughest. Those of us on this adventure need support - especially from each other! - without judgement or condemnation!)
Here you will find the musings of a homeschooling, work from home, adoptive Momma of 7! Adventures in faith, family, adoption, and training up a tribe to follow hard after Jesus are spilled into these posts --- most often written with a cup of coffee in hand. I hope you'll stick around a while and find something - more likely SOMEONE! - that brings you hope!
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